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The Sermonator: Exploring the Pros and Cons of Using AI Technology in Ministry

The Sermonator: Exploring the Pros and Cons of Using AI Technology in Ministry

I have to be honest… I have been serving on a mission trip in Los Angeles for the past seven days, and I haven’t had time to write, edit, and create the blog post for this week. While I am leaving filled with purpose and with a vision for LA, I am also leaving exhausted. 

Wouldn’t in be nice in situations like this to have technology that could make life a little easier and take our jumbled up thoughts and make sense of them?

Enter Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ChatGPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer). These new, innovative technologies are helping pastors transform their work and their preparation. 

On our newest episode of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, Jimbo and Bob brought on board special guest Wesley Lewis, the Creative Director and Owner of 180 Digital, our digital branding partner. We asked him to explain AI, GPT, and answer our questions on some of the benefits and negatives of using the technology.

Is this SkyNet Technology?

the logo for Cyberdyne, a fictional technology company used in the Terminator movies

This technology was introduced as part of Resolution 3 at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention, which brought it into the conversation of how pastors can use it effectively and with the Gospel in mind. You may have questions about what that means to your ministry, so Replant Bootcamp is here to try and make sense of it all.

One of the biggest differences between the AI you’ve seen take over the world in movies and today’s AI is today’s AI is “Generative AI.” How we use it determines how it affects us, not the other way around.  Instead of generating its own ideas, Chat GPT and AI respond to our prompts.  We can use it as a tool. Make no mistake, it IS being used, in everything from ads to scripts, emails, and social media.  There are programs to recognize when AI is being used so that you can know if an essay, review, or report has been written utilizing the technology.

You may be asking, is this manipulative?  Is it inauthentic to the Gospel to use technology to write sermons or marketing materials for the church?  As a branding and marketing director, Wesley gets this question a lot.  But part of utilizing this technology is recognizing our own limitations and knowing our audience.

First, Chat GPT can help you clearly convey your message by giving you more precise and effective language to do so.  While we may think we know everything about a specific subject, AI can help us find out new information that we didn’t previously know.  Utilizing AI when we search for information can provide more context, allowing us to understand our audience in a more comprehensive way.

The Sermon Has Not Been Written- Using Technology to Your Advantage

Now that we know the technology is out there, waiting on us to use it, how can we utilize it to our advantage?

For starters, Chat GPT can make life infinitely easier for pastors who have dyslexia or learning disabilities. While verbal communication can feel effortless, written communication like emails, blog posts, and texts can be difficult.  Chat GPT can make sense of the words and help formulate your thoughts so that you can clearly communicate without the struggle.  (An additional resource for dyslexic learners is Open Dyslexic, a font designed to be easier for dyslexics to read and comprehend.)

Likewise, programs like Speechify can read to you audibly if reading is a trial for you.  As an auditory learner, my husband is not a natural reader, but through audiobooks and AI technology, he is able to read several books a month. This allows him to be confident that he can accomplish educational goals and necessary theological reading that he needs for sermon preparation and church leadership.

AI can also assist in your church’s branding and messaging.  AI can help generate graphics and design that make your message more appealing and concise.  You may have the words to say, but adding a graphic to it can help make that message more memorable for your audience.

Many pastors are Bi-Vocational.  Sermon preparation and origination can take time, and time is in short supply for you.  Utilizing Chat GPT and AI can help you begin to formulate your thoughts and organize them into a more cohesive theme, freeing you up to write the sermon instead of trying to come up with a structure and outline.

Credibility is Irrelevant– I am a Machine

the face of a half man, half machine

With every advance in technology, while there is much good that can come from it, there is also the opportunity for negative consequences, as well.

While you can utilize AI and Chat GPT to assist with formulating a sermon, there is no replacing the study of God’s Word and applying God’s message to your specific audience, in YOUR voice. When we copy and paste an AI generated message, we run the risk of it sounding… Well, like a machine.  Your voice is the one your congregation knows.  Taking the time to write your message and convey it in your specific style and branding makes for a more tailored message that accounts for your specific congregation.

In addition, AI technology isn’t infallible. It is possible that the information it pulls may be incorrect, and without proper study (especially of God’s Word and the context of it), you may be conveying at best an incomplete message and at worse, an incorrect one.

Sometimes there is a temptation to allow AI to do the hard work for you.  I know this week I was certainly tempted to use it to write this blog.  In fact, I actually searched the blog topic and allowed Chat GPT to generate a blog post.  And while it was very good, it wasn’t mine. Authenticity comes from your own spiritual discernment and God’s message to you as you study His Word. When He speaks to us, He reveals Himself.  When we bypass that communication we miss His message to us.

I’ll be Back

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

If you or your church needs help understanding the new technologies available to you, or if you want help implementing them, contact Wesley at OneEighty Digital.  His company is happy to partner with churches to help them create content that is engaging and creative.  If you need help building a website or generating a more visible online presence, OneEighty is there as a resource that is available to you.